For the second time in a decade, the believability ratings for major news organizations have suffered broad-based declines. In the new survey, positive believability ratings have fallen significantly for nine of 13 news organizations tested. This follows a similar downturn in positive believability ratings that occurred between 2002 and 2004.
The falloff in credibility affects news organizations in most sectors: national newspapers, such as the New York Times and USA Today, all three cable news outlets, as well as the broadcast TV networks and NPR.
Across all 13 news organizations included in the survey, the average positive believability rating (3 or 4 on a 4-point scale) is 56%. In 2010, the average positive rating was 62%. A decade ago, the average rating for the news organizations tested was 71%. Since 2002, every news outlet's believability rating has suffered a double-digit drop, except for local daily newspapers and local TV news. The New York Times was not included in this survey until 2004, but its believability rating has fallen by 13 points since then.
These are among the major findings of a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted July 19-22 among 1,001 adults. The survey asks people to rate individual news organizations on believability using a 4-point scale. A rating of 4 means someone believes "all or most" of what the news organization says; a rating of 1 means someone believes "almost nothing" of what they say.
The believability ratings for individual news organizations – like views of the news media generally – have long been divided along partisan lines. But partisan differences have grown as Republicans' views of the credibility of news outlets have continued to erode. Today, there are only two news organizations – Fox News and local TV news – that receive positive believability ratings from at least two-thirds of Republicans. A decade ago, there were only two news organizations that did not get positive ratings from at least two-thirds of Republicans. By contrast, Democrats generally rate the believability of news organizations positively; majorities of Democrats give all the news organizations tested ratings of 3 or 4 on the 4-point scale, with the exception of Fox News.
Current Believability Ratings
The Pew Research Center has asked about the believability of individual news organizations for more than two decades. During this period, the Center also has asked separately about the news media's overall performance; ratings for the news media's accuracy, fairness and other aspects of performance also have shown long-term declines. (For the most recent report, see "Press Widely Criticized, But Trusted More than Other Information Sources," Sept. 22, 2011.)
The believability measures are based on those who give each news organization a rating. Roughly one-in-five are unable to rate the believability of NPR (21%), the New York Times (19%), the Wall Street Journal (19%) and USA Today (17%).
As in past believability surveys, local TV news and the CBS News program 60 Minutes receive the most positive ratings. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of those able to rate local TV news give it a rating of 3 or 4. Ratings are comparable for 60 Minutes (64% 3 or 4).
Despite the declines in believability, majorities continue to give most news organizations ratings of 3 or 4. However, ratings are mixed for NPR, MSNBC, the New York Times, Fox News and USA Today. About half give each of these news organizations believability ratings of 3 or 4; approximately the same percentages give them ratings of 1 or 2.
Believability of News Organizations: 2002-2012
Positive believability ratings for the New York Times have fallen by nine points since 2010, from 58% to 49%. The decline has been comparable for USA Today. Two years ago, 56% rated USA Today's believability at 3 or 4; today 49% do so.
About six-in-ten (58%) rate the Wall Street Journal's believability positively. That is little changed since 2010 (62%), but in 2002, 77% rated the Journal's believability at 3 or 4 on the 4-point scale.
Perceptions of the believability of the daily newspaper "you are most familiar with" are about the same as they were two years ago. Currently, 57% give their daily newspaper a positive believability rating, which is little changed from 2010 (59%).
Believability ratings for all three major cable news outlets have declined since 2010. MSNBC's believability rating has fallen from 60% to 50%, while the percentages giving CNN and Fox News believability ratings of 3 or 4 have declined seven points each, to 58% and 49%, respectively. In 2002, the ratings for all three cable news outlets were considerably higher – 76% for CNN, 73% for MSNBC and 67% for Fox News.
The believability ratings for local TV news are higher than those for the three cable news outlets. Currently, 65% give local news a rating of 3 or 4. Since 2002, credibility ratings for local TV news have remained more stable than have ratings for the three main cable news outlets.
There also have been slight declines since 2010 in believability ratings for the three major TV networks — ABC News, CBS News and NBC News. Over the past decade, positive ratings for all three have fallen from the low 70s to the mid- to high-50s. More than six-in-ten (64%) give the CBS weekly newsmagazine 60 Minutes believability ratings of 3 or 4. That is down 13 points since 2002.
Since 2010, the percentage giving NPR believability ratings of 3 or 4 has dropped eight points to 52%. NPR's believability ratings had changed little from 2002 to 2010; about six-in-ten in each year rated NPR's believability positively.
Partisan Gaps in Credibility Ratings
Republicans have long held a more negative view of the credibility of the news media than Democrats and this continues to be reflected in current assessments of news outlets. Republicans rate the believability of nine of 13 news organizations less positively than do Democrats. Fox News is the only news organization that is rated higher for believability by Republicans (67% of Republicans vs. 37% of Democrats). However, the percentage of Republicans giving Fox a believability rating of 3 or 4 has fallen 10 points, from 77%, since 2010.
Partisan differences in believability ratings are more pronounced for broadcast and cable TV news organizations, with more modest gaps for most newspapers.
More than twice as many Democrats as Republicans rate MSNBC's believability positively (69% vs. 32%). The differences are about as large in views of the believability of CNN and the three broadcast networks.
The partisan divide in views of the New York Times' believability also is substantial; 65% of Democrats, but just 37% of Republicans, rate the believability of the Times at 3 or 4. However, there are smaller differences in views of other newspapers. More Democrats (65%) than Republicans (49%) give positive ratings for the newspaper they know best, but about as many Republicans as Democrats rate the believability of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today positively.
A majority of Democrats (59%) give NPR a believability rating of 3 or 4. That compares with 48% of Republicans.
The partisan differences in views of the believability of most news organizations have increased greatly since 2002. For example, the partisan gap in believability of each of the cable networks was only about 10 points a decade ago; today, the gaps in believability ratings for Fox News, MSNBC and CNN are at least 30 points.
About the Believability Survey Data
The media believability report draws on a series of surveys conducted since 1985. The project was initiated by the Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press and continued by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press since 1996. All believability surveys have been conducted by telephone. Since 2010, cell phone interviewing has been included. All interviews have been conducted in English. The analysis in this report is based primarily on surveys conducted between 2002 and 2012.
The current survey is based on telephone interviews conducted July 19-22, 2012 among a national sample of 1,001 adults 18 years of age or older living in the continental United States (600 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 401 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 191 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A combination of landline and cell phone random digit dial samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older. For detailed information about our survey methodology, see: http://people-press.org/methodology/.
The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin and region to parameters from the March 2011 Census Bureau's Current Population Survey and population density to parameters from the Decennial Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status, based on extrapolations from the 2011 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size within the landline sample. Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into account the effect of weighting.
With a 95% level of confidence, the margin of error for the total sample of 1,001 is plus-or-minus 3.6 percentage points. Analysis in this report was based on those who could rate each news organization. That number ranged from 796, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 points, to 947, with a margin of error of 3.7 points.
The sample included 239 Republicans, 286 Democrats and 384 independents. Margins of error are 7.4 points, 6.8 points and 5.8 points, respectively. Not all partisans offered ratings of all news organizations. As few as 183 Republicans and as many as 230 Republicans rated the various news outlets, with margins of error ranging from 7.5 to 8.4 percentage points. As few as 222 Democrats and as many as 272 Democrats rated the news outlets, with margins of error from 6.9 to 7.7 percentage points. Among independents, as few as 314 and as many as 363 rated the news outlets, producing margins of error of 6.0 to 6.4 percentage points.
Sample sizes and sampling errors for other subgroups are available upon request.
In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.